New galleries at Art Basel come well-armed and well-informed

By Jacqueline Leung

Of the 233 participating galleries this year, only 29 were newcomers to Art Basel Hong Kong. For galleries new to the show, being exhibited among a majority of returning galleries seems stressful in an environment where landing sales is imperative for business.

Yet some new galleries are not fazed by the challenge, and have prepared for Art Basel in ways they think are best for their development and growth in the Asian market.

“It’s our first time at the booth here, but it’s not our first time in the region,” said Berlin-based gallerist Esther Schipper, whose experience in the business makes her an influential force in Germany’s art scene. Having exhibited extensively in various parts of the world, including Art Basel in Basel and Miami Beach, Schipper is a veteran at exhibiting in art fairs. Her previous projects in Asia have also familiarized her with trends and business in the region.

If anything, the main difference between home and Hong Kong lies in the gallery’s relations with customers and the audience. “We’ve exhibited in art fairs everywhere, and over time, you get to know most of your audience in person,” she explains. “This is different here, but we’ve prepared for it.”

Other first-time exhibitors were also trying to connect with the audience better. For 1335MABINI, it meant showcasing only one artist. “It’s good to focus on one artist so that the exhibition is more coherent,” says Jose Luis Singson, director of the gallery. “We still try to curate our artist as we would in any exhibition.”

1335MABINI exhibits the works of Poklong Anading, who explores distinct perspectives on social phenomena and individual identity through photography, new media and video installations. Despite limited space at the booth, Singson decided to exhibit Anading’s Counter Acts III, a video installation that senses different sounds to display images, encouraging interaction with the audience.

Anthea Fan, director of am space, also tried to uphold the gallery’s curatorial spirit in her exhibition of Hong Kong artist Samson Young’s works. “We want to incorporate an educational element to our booth,” she said, gesturing to the gallery staff who diligently introduced Young’s sound installations to the browsing audience. “We want the people to understand our artist’s works and what he’s expressing, rather than just thinking that they’re abstract.”

In spite of the effort of curators and the gallery staff, Young thinks it is very difficult to reproduce the space galleries offer for artists. Logistically, it can be demanding to set up the booth in a day’s time as arranged by Art Basel, but more importantly, he thinks it is the intrinsic difference between exhibition space in an art fair and in a gallery that accounts for the discrepancy.

“It’s another experience [for the audience] to visit an art fair as opposed to a gallery,” he explains. “They’re different spatial constructs. In the exhibition hall, the booths resemble subdivided flats for art – that’s a very different story for galleries.”

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